Kenneth Branagh’s Aha! Moment: How I Learned to Meditate
The Thor director once believed that if he only tried hard enough, he could control life’s twists and turns. Then a friend introduced him to meditation.
As told to Crystal G. Martin
Photo: Getty Images
There’s a saying that navigating life is like flying a plane through turbulence. Until about ten years ago, I thought that the more I worried, the better I could handle the bumps. In 2001 there were a lot of bumps: My mother had fallen ill, and I had a gaggle of obligations bogging me down—I was directing a play in London’s West End, acting in the second Harry Potter film, and writing a script. My work, especially directing, is often about crisis management, but during those days, none of my problem-solving attempts were working because I was permanently preoccupied. My mind was always spinning, and I couldn’t stop it. I wasn’t having a breakdown, but I was undeniably stuck.
One day I called my great friend, Brian, whom I’d known for many, many years, and we went for a long walk with our dogs. He’d always been a listening ear in difficult times, and I told him how I’d been feeling. When we got back home, he said, “Look, you need a break and I’m going to make sure you get it—twice a day.”
Brian invited me to meet with his meditation group. I knew Brian meditated, but he’d always shied away from discussing it. I think he brought it up then because he realized I was at the end of my tether. But I thought, “I haven’t got time to muck around with this. I’m working!”
Brian was persistent, however. So later that week, I found myself at the meeting. I was skeptical, thinking his friends might be cultish or strange. But they were all regular people who, like me, just wanted to find some quiet in their lives. One of the leaders gave me a mantra—a sacred word I was to repeat to myself over and over during meditation. I could never say it aloud or share it. The leader then told me to close my eyes for half an hour and focus on the mantra.
I immediately found meditation maddening. It was silly, pointless, a waste of time. But toward the end of the 30 minutes, for a brief moment I experienced simple, weightless happiness. I wasn’t thinking about anything at all. The mental chatter had disappeared. Afterward I felt as if I had just returned from a holiday. And with that, my life changed forever, because I had found a way to still my mind.
For the past decade, I’ve meditated for 30 minutes twice a day. It’s as difficult as ever, but the practice has changed my view of the world. I’ve learned to acknowledge my problems and then let them go. And thanks to that ability to release them, I understand that frustration is just a passing feeling; I don’t identify with it. My mind no longer gets congested, because each morning and night I start fresh again. I shut off all the noise and thoughts and listen only to my instinct—that inner voice that, if we just give it a chance, will speak to all of us.